Early in the AIDS epidemic Lakich recognized the horror of ignorance and neglect on the part of the nation's public health policies which led to the martyrdom of thousands before the existence of the crisis was acknowledged. In three works from this series included in the exhibition, Lakich begins with a half-figure matrix, rib lines highlighted on each side, bent arms placed in back of a large glass lens head. While neon back lights each work and is ethereally incorporated on the surfaces, it is found-object assemblage which distinguishes each piece: an amethyst geode in For all the Young Men Dying (1988); a buffalo skull in Flesh and Blood so Cheap (1989); and Cadillac tail lights in Sacred Heart (1991). In the latter she attaches a verbal cue, “Vacancy,” to spell out the void left in private lives and the public sphere by the loss of so many lives. Lakich is active in the fight against AIDS in her alternate career in marketing identity and environmental design as well, designing signage and publications for AIDS Healthcare Foundation and its Out of the Closet stores.
     Diametrically opposite in scale, style and message from the somber and tragic images of the AIDS series is the monumental Mardi Gras (1989), commissioned for the corporate lobby of Unity Savings.2 This fanciful sculpture abounds with whimsy and merriment, much like Juan Miro's imaginary playgrounds of biomorphic shapes and animated lines. This work perhaps most captures the magic and appeal of the large neon signs of Las Vegas and Broadway in their heyday.
     Stele for Unknown (1989) was done the same year as Mardi Gras and is intriguing in its much sharper and critical tone. Exaggerating the vertical format of historical steles, and reinterpreting a winged memorial column near the Forbidden City in Beijing, Lakich creates a totemic sculpture with a winged skull (a variation of a colonial New England gravestone, also seen in Blessed Oblivion), a hand, and a few additional neon lines. The word “Unknown” signals the dilemma of people who do not seek to distinguish themselves in life and who therefore are not remembered.
These works, the “Other Neon Seductions” of the exhibition title, indicate the artist’s evolution from sophisticated and elegant works with strong neon components, to works with growing emphasis on, and experimentation with, the other materials of her sculpture. Her latest sculptures, rawer in conception, and more industrial in appearance, are the primary focus of the keynote work of the exhibition, Sirens, an installation created in 2001.
     Lakich’s earlier artworks engage the traditional, museum interpretation of installation—that is, the arrangement within the exhibition space of individual works so that each piece sustains its significance while the exhibition as a whole makes a cohesive statement. In contrast, Sirens embodies the current interpretation of installation as genre, an artist's creation of an entire tableau or environment as a single esthetic statement. While Director of MONA, Lakich oversaw numerous installations in the traditional museum sense. It is only in this exhibition that she creates her first artwork in the installation genre.
     Throughout the twentieth century artists have been pushing the boundaries of visual arts to introduce more time-space elements, establishing what some have interpreted as an inexorable move towards theater. Futurists, Constructivists, Surrealists, and members of the Bauhaus experimented with various formats for space-time creations. At mid-century activities in the Pop Art and Fluxus movements continued these efforts to deconstruct and reconstruct traditional confines of the visual arts. Continued enquiry in the later part of the century produced crossbred forms such as environmental, earth, and site-specific art, both within and beyond the confines of museum walls.3 As in these precursors, today’s installation art fuels the impulse to subvert the context of a given space, permanence in art, and the autonomy of individual media.4
     Sirens is a site-specific bar, a generic watering hole, re-situated from a Southern California suburban desert, perhaps somewhere in the San Fernando Valley, to its temporary home at the CSUN Galleries. The bar’s seven-foot sign on the exterior wall is a seductive mermaid in glowing multi-colored neon, a beacon in the isolation of the night. It is reminiscent of advertising signs popular in the fifties and sixties and admired by Lakich in her family’s frequent cross-country travels. The sign also reflects the ubiquitous popularity of a mermaid as siren, evident in a Mexican playing card. She is the femme fatale seen at the end of the nineteenth century in the posters of Alphonse Mucha, Henri deToulouse-Lautrec and Dudley Hardy, luring prospective patrons from the sidewalks and streets to the entertainment offered within. Inside the bar, one is mesmerized by the luminosity of the commercial beer signs and clocks (these were the first mass-produced neon signs) and by the coterie of archetypal bar habitués, lonely yet hopeful in their quest for companionship. As the visual narrative unfolds, mixing the familiar with the unknown, this escapist oasis becomes an allegorical tableau of the perennial concerns of its occupants. Sirens might recall a more somber tableau, Barney's Beanery, a 1965 assemblage by Edward Kienholz;5 however, figures in Lakich’s work are interactive, invite viewer participation, and suggest some social exchange.
     Upon entering the bar, the guest sees familiar staples such as a pool table with overhead light; beer, cigarette and other advertising signs; barstools and tables, and even a beaded curtain. Intermingled with these ready-mades are assemblage characters, all of which are composed of found objects, metal, and neon accents.
     Call Me: A Self Portrait invites the visitor to touch her payphone torso, activating Blondie's song of the same name, reincarnated as a siren's call; another bar staple, the tabletop jukebox, serves as her head. Lakich interjects herself into this tableau, discarding the artist-as-observer role, and even insists on the autobiographical by including her actual phone number on the torso. Don't Ask/Don’t Tell (a more ominous siren call, a soldier's alert to the nation’s recent policy towards gay members of the Armed Forces), wears military epaulets, a propeller insignia, and large wood printer's typeset voicing the visual quandary his/her body projects. Girly Girl is the bar flirt, enticing with her come-hither stance, Cadillac taillight breasts, and “Overdrive” plaque. Belying the stereotype Virgin/Vixen duality of females, Rapture is the sculptural reinterpretation of an earlier drawing, Punk Madonna (1981). She flaunts her fiery heart with kinetic neon, and signals off-limits but seductive territory with the “Rapture” logo of a Los Angeles area low-rider club. Sticks and Stones is also life-size with a computer/video monitor head under which a surveillance camera transmits the image of the viewer to the screen/face. This closed circuit transformation from assemblage sculpture to self-portrait of the viewer confronts the viewer with the issue of bigotry; recognizing one's own face on the screen, one must also acknowledge awareness of common epithets slung at homosexuals, emblazoned on the chest of this figure. “Gay, Fag, Dyke, Fruit, Fairy, Lesbo, Homo, Queer, Lezzie, Nellie, Pansy, Faggot, Fag Hag, Pervert, Muffdiver, Diesel Dyke, Bulldagger, Cocksucker, Bull Dyke, Queen” underscore the mean-spirited intolerance behind this street lexicon.6
 These bold, machined figures with their rough edges, found-objects and sparingly used neon are a counterpoint to the artist’s earlier, more elegant, neon-infused sculptures integrated into this bar environment. The Red Hot Mama, and Vacancy/No Vacancy, created in the 1970s, are luminous nude female torsos whose messages are not the usual bar fare. OASIS: Portrait of Djuna Barnes is the classiest of the bar personages, appealing to the more culturally inclined with her reference to “The Blue Angel” and to the author of the 1936 Nightwood, a landmark poetic novel. Amazon (2001) is an enlargement of a photo from an Israeli newspaper Lakich saw hanging in a friend's bathroom. Her don”t-mess-with-me attitude, next to a road-worn motorcycle in the photograph, is augmented by the rough-and-ready real motorcycle parked beneath the image. Emphatically, she is fearless and fully in control. (A more laid-back interpretation of the autonomous female is evident in Lakich's drawing, Self-Portrait as an Amazon Relaxing, 1981).
In discussing the significance of installation art in contemporary lesbian art, Harmony Hammond states, “Because of the associations and juxtapositions of the various materials used in their making, combined-media installations are an excellent vehicle for voices of migration, exile and displacement. These cultural migrations, volunteered or forced, parallel the shifts and dissolving boundaries of gender and sexuality.”7 Lakich captures archetypal figures whose “otherness” has opened up debate and gradual acceptance; and her Sirens embodies the liberating, interactive, and crossover attributes which fortify the installation genre’s continued popularity.
     Both parts of the exhibition engage the new gallery space in a contextual juxtaposition, afforded by two different approaches to installation. The individual works highlight the traditional gallery installation, in which a “white cube” gallery enforces the perception of each work individually and in an art context. Sirens subverts the exhibition space with a “dark cube” temporary habitat, an environmental entity that forces the perception of all the components as a single statement.
     Lakich draws on a boundless universe of inspiration, reassuringly familiar on the one hand, boldly unsettling on the other. She works easily with art as business and business as art, with the public and private image, as theory-informed artist and as political activist. Her work appeals to a broad audience, from the Las Vegas nightlife aficionado to the conceptually oriented artist working with light and space. With this exhibition she confirms her mastery of the sculptural medium and her intrepid curiosity for that hybrid mix of the common and uncommon.

                                            —Louise Lewis, Director

1 Martha Rosler, “Place, Position, Power, Politics,” in Carol Becker, ed., The Subversive Imagination, Routledge, 1994, p.64.

2 Lakich acquired the sculpture after Unity Savings closed in 1992.

3 See Nicolas de Oliveira, Nicola Oxley and Michael Perry, Installation Art, Thames and Hudson, Ltd., 1994.

4 Previous notable installation transformations of the CSUN Art Galleries include DeWain Valentine Camera Obscura (1978), Jody Pinto Architectural Sculpture (1980), Maren Hassinger Focus/Environment (1985), Lisa Lyon Icons of the Divine (1986), Michael McMillen Pavilion of Rain (1987), Beverly Naidus Will You Stop Depressing Me? (1989), Jan Sanchez Odyssey (1990), Betty Wan Orientation 9 from The Chinese Heritage/5 Contemporary Perspectives (1992), Michael Flechtner Schooling: An Icthyological Perspective (1993), Tom O'Day Waste to Energy to Waste (1995), Carole Kim Preserves (1995), Lavialle Campbell and Lava Thomas Intersecting Parallels (1996), Patssi Valdez Private Landscapes: The Living Room (1998), Michael Brewster, George Geyer, Tom McMillen, Karen Frimkess Wolff, Connie Zehr: Southern California Environments, (1999).

5 Barney's Beanery, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. Unlike Lakich's life-size interactive bar, Barney's Beanery is a one-third-scale recreation of the actual diner in West Hollywood.

6 With a much different intention, the “Fagots Stay Out” sign, included in Kienholz's “Beanery” was decidedly homo phobic and not pro-active; the original sign was not removed from the actual Beanery until 1985 (Los Angeles Magazine, December, 2000, p. 176).

7 Harmony Hammond. Lesbian Art in America, Rizzoli, 2000, pp.163-164.

Lakich Studio



Installation view, Sirens and Other Neon Seductions,
Art Galleries, California State University, Northridge, California






Gravestone of Rebekah Row, 1680 Charlestown, Boston
Monument in Tiananmen Square
Beijing, China
The Mermaid from a Mexican
card game.
Dudley Hardy
A Gaiety Girl, 1893 color lithograph
Alphonse Mucha
Monaco, Monte Carlo, 1897 color lithograph
Cowgirl from signage for the Glitter Gulch Casino, Las Vegas.